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Self-defense professionals often advise their students to “live in Condition Yellow.” This terminology comes from one of the all-time great personal-protection ­teachers, the late Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, USMC, retired. He was the first to popularize the concept of color codes to describe levels of alertness and preparedness.

In Condition White, Cooper explained, one was unaware of his or her surroundings and unprepared to swiftly react to sudden danger. Next up on the scale was Condition Yellow, a state of relaxed alertness. Condition Orange is a heightened awareness focused on gathering input when there is reason to believe that some particular danger is present. Col. Cooper’s continuum ended at Condition Red, when the danger had been located and identified, and it was conflict time. Some of us went with a fifth color code, Condition Black, delineating Red as the gunpoint situation with a threat clearly identified and Black being “lethal assault in progress” upon us or other innocent people, the point at which we had no alternative but to neutralize the threat.

In the above gallery, we’ll focus on Condition Yellow, the cultivation of a constant “relaxed alertness.” We have long called it “situational awareness.” Let’s examine some of its elements.

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